Rudy Giuliani: America's Mayor
In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, Mayor Rudy Giuliani showed New Yorkers and the world what great leadership is about.
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From the outset, Giuliani's mayoral reign generated opposing views. On one side, the city's black leadership deeply mistrusted the mayor, and felt as if he simply refused to reach out to them. The rest of the city saw his "quality of life" campaign, which targeted panhandlers and car window washers at stoplights, as returning a degree of civility to the city. He launched an aggressive, and frequently controversial, police campaign to get guns off the streets. It undoubtedly helped reduce crime, but warrantless frisks and searches of young males, often black or Hispanic, on city streets were greeted with outrage. By the end of his first term, New York had become a safer, more pleasant place to live and work.
He won a second term in 1997, easily defeating Ruth Messinger even though the police department had been sullied just weeks before the election by the brutal beating in a station house of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. Another wave of protests occurred in 1999 when undercover officers gunned down an unarmed man, Amadou Diallo. Giuliani's unwavering defense of the police was viewed as insensitive. A second shooting of a black man in March 2000, Patrick Dorismond, provoked more protests, but again, Giuliani refused to back down from his defense of the police department. He also triggered more outrage when he tried to end public funding for an art exhibition at the Brooklyn Art Museum, objecting to what he called its profane images of the Virgin Mary. To him, it was a matter of principle and belief. In the end, the city was forced to retreat, but not until Giuliani had been portrayed as an advocate of censorship. Even against the backdrop of those controversies, many New Yorkers supported the mayor, believing his anticrime drives and quality-of-life projects had saved the city.
Faced with a two-term limit on his job, Giuliani decided in 2000 to run for senator, to replace Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. His opponent would be First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. His campaign never really got off the ground. Throughout the early months of 2000, he campaigned reluctantly. Then, in April, he announced he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. About a week later, New York's tabloid newspapers ran pictures of him out and about with a female companion, Judith Nathan. By early May, the mayor announced he was separating from his wife of 17 years, Donna Hanover Giuliani, a television newscaster and the mother of his two teenage children. Nine days later, on May 19, he dropped out of the Senate race, saying he needed to focus on his prostate cancer treatment.
In the 16 months between his withdrawal from the race and the World Trade Center attacks, the Giuliani Administration enjoyed relative tranquility. During his eight years in office he had presided over a turnaround in New York's fortune, including an unprecedented boom that began in the late 1990s. As he neared the end of his second term in 2001, he was basking in the glory of some of his accomplishments, such as a 57 percent decline in felony crimes since 1993 and a 68 percent decline in the murder rate in that period. While some critics dispute whether he should be given credit for the reduced crime rates, the reality seemed rather simple -- it happened on his watch.
But given the ambivalence many New Yorkers had felt toward Giuliani, the widespread praise for him in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and building sentiment that he should stay on for another term, came as a surprise. Liz, a resident of Battery Park City who ran for her life the day the adjacent World Trade Center towers fell, admitted recently that she hadn't voted for him. Although not wanting to give her last name, she said, "He has to stay. He's done such a great job. The city needs him now." A firefighter, who was injured in the collapse of one building adjacent to the towers, said, "I saw him at a funeral, and I walked up and just hugged him and said ëthank you' to him. We need some continuity right now. He should stay on."
As a champion of the term limit law, the issue is complicated for Giuliani. Speaking at press time, the mayor said he was looking for an agreement with the remaining mayoral candidates to create "an extended transition period." Whichever candidate is elected, the mayor argued, the winner will have more time to name his own team and study the situation in regard to the cleanup and reconstruction, while having the full expertise of the mayor and his team. Giuliani said he didn't want a third term, but he wanted to do what was right for the city.
All the controversies have been put aside for now. In truth, they may remain as mere footnotes to his tenure for all time.
History will remember Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his stalwart presence during the worst crisis faced by any American city in modern history. All Americans will remember his dust-stained face, his soot-covered suit and dirty boots, his soothing words, and his raw emotion as he tried to guide a city and its inhabitants through an overwhelming mixture of grief, anger and fear. History also will record his words, a shorthand philosophy about the lives we must lead, even in the wake of tragedy of unimaginable proportions.
"Life is risky," the mayor said as the last seven to 10 stories of the outer shell of Two World Trade Center were being lowered two weeks after the attack. "You can decide to live your life afraid of that happening, or you can decide to live your life the way Americans live their lives, which is unafraid."
Spoken like a true man of courage.